Author - Nancy Minicozzi

Do you have Common Sense?

A baby exploring the keyboard on a laptop computer

You may have heard of Common Sense, but you may not be familiar with everything they offer. They are an “independent nonprofit organization dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology,” and they have a plethora of completely free resources for anyone interested in ensuring that children lead safe, happy, and productive digital lives.

One of their programs, Common Sense Education, is aimed at helping students flourish by providing teachers with lesson plans and professional development. They have been offering a complete digital citizenship curriculum for grades K-12 (and yes, even kindergarteners need digital citizenship lessons) for quite some time, but they have recently updated their lessons for grades 3-5 and they are excellent. The new lessons are designed around six areas of digital literacy: digital footprint, media balance, cyberbullying, online privacy, communication, and news and media literacy; they focus on empowering students to enable them to take control of their own digital lives. The lessons are research-based and were designed in partnership with Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

In addition, Common Sense offers teachers many other tools and resources. They have ed tech ratings for tools, lesson plans, downloadable posters for your room, and the list goes on. There are resources available to help get families more involved in teaching their children to be good digital citizens and savvy consumers of digital content. Interested teachers can even earn recognition as a Common Sense Educator.

Common Sense is also behind Common Sense Media, which provides resources for parents, including ratings and recommendations for movies, television, and video games, and Common Sense Kids Action, which works with business leaders, policy makers, and others to advocate for state and federal policies that will support, protect, and nurture all children.

11 Reasons Not to Go to Fall CUE

Fall CUE logo with leaves

If you are reading this blog post, you probably know that Fall CUE, “the biggest little conference on the West Coast,” is coming up in just a few weeks. It will take place October 13 and 14 at American Canyon High School. You might be thinking about going, but this event may not be for you. Here are 11 reasons NOT to go to Fall CUE.

  1. It’s fall and you have chores to do. You would much prefer raking leaves and cleaning out your rain gutters to going to a conference.
  2. You think getting together with friends and colleagues over a glass of something lovely from Napa Valley is overrated.
  3. You have plenty of strategies to engage your students and don’t need any new ones.
  4. You’re not interested in sessions on how to incorporate AR and VR, improve your instructional coaching skills, master Google Slides, Forms, and Geo Tools, empower students while protecting their privacy, get girls into coding, or any number of other topics.
  5. Your computer already has plenty of stickers on it.
  6. You would rather read people’s tweets than meet and talk to them in person.
  7. You might look at things from a new perspective and find yourself with a crazy desire to rewrite and improve some of your lesson plans.
  8. You are very comfortable in your comfort zone, thank you. No need to break out of that rut.
  9. You can do without the jolt of energy that being in a place full of like-minded people can bring.
  10. You feel like investing in yourself and your skills is a waste of time.
  11. You don’t like fun.

If these reasons resonate with you, then, by all means, stay home. Otherwise, we will see you at Fall CUE!

TLC Ninja: Jay Salerno Empowers Students and Promotes Digital Equity

The TLC Ninja team had a great time learning how Jay Salerno empowers students by helping them grow from “TechSprouts” to “Techsperts” as they mentor peers, teachers, and community members. He shares how his district converted a sports bus into a rolling tech lab to promote digital equity and social justice, and gives tips on how you can empower your students. Be sure to check out Jay’s website to find out more – and see pictures of the students at work! We especially loved the pictures of the students taking the senior citizens on a virtual reality tour.

Teachers in Space

astronaut/teacher Joe Acaba
astronaut/teacher Joe Acaba

Astronaut/teacher Joe Acaba studies vegetable plants growing on the International Space Station. Image credit: NASA

Right now, NASA is celebrating a Year of Education on the International Space Station (ISS), and two of the astronauts are former teachers. As part of this celebration, NASA has made available several STEM activities related to the ISS and its role in helping us reach Mars.

On their website at nasa.gov/stemonstation, you will find lesson plans, videos, and news, in addition to a wealth of other information for both teachers and students. Students can watch a livestream of Earth as viewed from space, learn about what research is conducted aboard the ISS, and watch the astronauts do experiments. They can also learn about the station itself and what life in space is like. They can even connect with the astronauts for live question-and-answer sessions. How cool is that?

Teachers will find Learning Launchers containing lesson plans, videos, and other resources on a variety of topics related to the ISS. Some of the titles include Robotics, Space Station and the Economy, The Brain in Space, and Under the Microscope (microbes), but there are many more to choose from if none of these appeal to you.

You can subscribe to updates on the Stem on Station website, and Twitter users can follow the hashtags #TeacherOnBoard and #stemonstation to see the latest news. Bon voyage!

Tips for Connecting with Your Students via Natalie Priester

Natalie Priester with lots of books

Whether you are a brand new teacher or one with a bit more “seasoning,” you know that connecting with your students is key to a successful school year. Natalie Priester, a CUE member from southern California, recently attended a training where she got to meet middle school teachers from across the country. She asked them for their best advice on how to connect and build relationships with their students, then shared their responses in a quick video. While Natalie asked specifically about middle schoolers, the advice from these teachers can be applied to kids of almost any age.

You can see the video below, and we know you will come away with some great ideas to implement right away. You will also want to check out her channel, where Natalie posts videos about many topics of interest to teachers, including reading, blended learning, building relationships, and being a teacher and a mom.

TLC Ninja: Judy Blakeney, Tricia Hyun, and Strength-Based Education

Strength-based education is an approach which begins with and builds upon the strengths of students, teachers, parents, and the community. Nancy and Lisa chat with Judy Blakeney and  Tricia Hyun to find out how easy it is to empower your students to be more successful. You can visit their website at Strengthbasededu.com.

Many of the mentioned resources are also included on their episode page on the TLC Ninja website.

Light a Spark

hand holding sparkler

Adobe Spark is not a new tool, but if you haven’t checked it out lately, you don’t know Spark. In April, Adobe announced that they would make this creation tool free for students and teachers, and they would throw in all the premium features to boot. All you need is a little help from your friendly neighborhood IT manager to get it set up and you are off and running, even with students under 13.

The Swiss Army knife of creation tools, Spark has three easy to use “utensils” that even the littlest learners can master:

  • Post: This graphic design software lets students work with images. They can upload their own or select from Creative Commons licensed media inside the app from providers like Unsplash and Pixabay. Curricular uses could include creating book cover designs, billboards promoting one of the original colonies, and social media posts from historical or literary figures.
  • Page: This tool allows you to create a very attractive one page website. Students can include text, images, videos, and links. Use as a digital portfolio, to deliver a report, or include images from class events.
  • Video: As its name implies, this is a video creation tool. Students can upload images or select from Creative Commons licensed photographs (automatically credited at the end of the video), add music, and even record voiceover narration. They can also upload video clips. Spark Video can be used to create historical documentaries, highlight themes or other aspects of a novel, summarize a concept, explain vocabulary, document science experiments, or provide a background image for a story or poem that they read aloud.

Students who are unsure of their design skills may choose from the design themes and templates available in all Adobe Spark tools while others can build from scratch. Creations can be shared publicly or privately.

Access Adobe Spark from a computer at spark.adobe.com. There are also iOS apps (one for each tool, to keep them from being too bulky). Android users only have the option to use Post at this time. Content syncs automatically between the web and mobile apps, so you can start your work in one place and finish in another.

To learn more, visit this page with an overview and examples of the tools. There is also a teacher guide you can download. They even have nine suggestions for assignments to start the school year off “on a Spark-ly note.”

By the way, the image for this blog post was made in Spark.

TLC Ninja: Tammy Lind Brings Makerspaces into the Classroom

Tammy Lind believes that maker is an innovative mindset that both teachers and students should have, and she prefers having the makerspace in the classroom instead of in the library or a specialized room. She explains why and talks about her district began using classroom makerspaces in the latest episode of TLC Ninja with Lisa and Nancy.

Find Tammy online on TwitterInstagram (private, but just ask to follow and she will accept your request), or Google Plus.